Continuing the series on professional growth, which started with my last post: Part 1 – Inspirational Beginnings. I started off asking “How did you get started and how long have you been in the game?” I got some interesting results and this next post I asked the question: “What traits, methods, knowledge or experiences did you find crucial to your growth?” Also updated with question 3, “What has changed since then, what’s new to be done?”
The mentality behind this question was to ask “what was required when you got your start”. I think it adds an interesting perspective, because a lot has changed since some of these responders started their careers, and they didn’t start at the same time. Its a look back at what used to work and after this, we’ll take a look at what’s changed since then.
The number one response that was common amongst the responders was “Curiosity”. Now I will be generalizing the responses down to common themes, but this one was almost exactly what everyone agreed upon, and their responses on the matter typically circled around one thought, “Find a technology that you love”.
A persons curiosity and drive to learn is one of the most powerful things in their early career. I’m not saying chase after every technology and invest everything you have until your broke, but observe the technology you have around you, find new ways to work with it and explore. Take into consideration someone with a smartphone. Android has a FREE SDK, and if you have an iPhone, xCode is FREE as well. You have all the necessary bits to attempt programming!
Once you’ve found something you’re interested in, then it’s time to begin learning and developing that interest. There are plenty of ways to start learning, improving and continuing that curiosity, its just a matter of doing so. I jotted down some high level ideas that I felt fit within the “learning” portion of this question, so here we go:
I think this falls into any situation. When learning programming, setting a goal can be something like making a Hello World! app, then followed by an app that has a button that changes something on the screen. Now, responders were not very specific on this topic, but they didn’t need to be. This idea is generally known everywhere and is the best method to “project manage” your goal to going from beginner, to a novice and onward to expert! If you don’t have an end goal in mind when completing a task, its hard to stay motivated.
The Unquenchable Thirst
I really liked how a few responders specifically used this exact phrase. The idea is general enough to say “don’t lose your curiosity”, continue to want to know more and drive yourself to try harder and harder topics within your areas of interest. This isn’t something you can be trained on, but I find its a great way to know for sure that this interest is the path to follow. Think about it, if you didn’t want to continue learning about something, why would you try and make a career of it? If you say for the money, then my reply is to stop muddying up the candidate pool with disinterested, disconnected and non-passionate people. Chase a career that even remotely interests you, it will be noticeable in your approach to your work and your day to day attitude. That alone will open up a lot of doors.
Dive Into Problems
This is something that was brought up by Kimberly Delgado (@KCDAutomate) and its so right I had to include it. In a tech field, so many positions are based on being the “firefighter”. This is essentially why there is SO MANY support role jobs. Things happen and during those moments, you need to take the initiative to dive in and help troubleshoot. Of all the moments that could really help you grow and understand the technology we work with, “fires” are the moments that stand out.
Word of caution though, if you are over your head, send up the signal flare and get help. Its great to have a team member take the initiative, but if a problem is too big or complex for them to handle, they could be getting in the way and that doesn’t sit well during a debrief.
Pickup the Technical on the Fly
This is actually a very important concept. Everyone would love to take their time and figure out a software, but your time costs the company money and at times the project requires you to rush your learning. Jay says it best here:
To really succeed in tech you need to be able to quickly learn and understand new ideas/concepts. Great technologies move at lightning speed and therefore you need to be able to understand something conceptually today and implement it tomorrow.
– Jay Weier (Sr. Systems Admin, Harvard Law School)
This is so very true! This skill came up amongst a few responders and is essential the further you get into your career. Personally, I find that this skill is what helps you grow at your fastest rate.
Don’t be discouraged if you feel you can’t pick up some technologies as fast though, this skill comes with practice, experience and a high level understanding of technologies. Not everyone NEEDS to learn networking or application deployment, but knowing the areas that cross over with your interests helps you communicate better with other people.
Support your Learning
In the responses, many of them felt you need to keep at it when it comes to learning, push yourself and find tools to support your development. Here are a few ways people mentioned doing so, and the types of experiences that help:
- Work Lab
- Because, not everyone has access to funds or hardware to build a home lab.
- Hands-On-Lab or equivalent free software
- HOL is an amazing tools to get started and peak your interest. There are also free tools from other vendors that provide free access to learning the basics.
- When you want to find some practical experience, nothing says I am committed more than volunteering. It provides experiences you can’t get by doing everything at home.
- Find a mentor
- It’s always important to find a mentor. People in tech generally tend to be ok sharing their experiences. This is a very community focused career field. Use that and when you can, return the favor.
The Soft Skills matter too
This one was big amongst responders. Soft skills refer to the ability to communicate with other human beings. Soft skills matter as you grow because it allows you to communicate your value more effectively while showcasing that you can indeed work with others. This leads to working on teams, then working in management or customer facing roles.
Another soft skill is patience, because growth doesn’t happen over night. Also, it doesn’t hurt to have some patience when working a help desk or support role. Scratch that, its completely necessary.
Wrapping up, there are a few personal traits I took away from the responses that I feel are necessary to mention. These traits generalize some of the most necessary traits used for growth in your career.
- You will have many times where you want to give up on something, but don’t. People are watching and your determination can help you stand out.
- Attention to Detail
- This is just a general rule for all work, regardless of industry. Work smarter not harder.
- Take Pride in your Work
- I don’t mean to go around telling everyone, everything you do, but definitely be proud of your accomplishments. You’ll have to talk about that pride at your next interview.
- Don’t Be Afraid to Fail
- We all fail at some point. No one is perfect, but bouncing back and getting things done is important.
- Be Comfortably Uncomfortable
- Still my favorite saying. Being in situations where you might not be comfortable help you learn. Get comfortable being there.
- Sharing Knowledge
- This helps set you up as a good team lead, because sharing your knowledge means you want everyone to succeed or help out.
[UPDATED] Because I thought I should just combine these.
On to question 3! Which I apologize for the time between posts. Now, above, I asked what traits, experiences and knowledge responders asked was necessary when they got started in the technology industry. Moving forward, I asked: “What has changed since then? What additional traits and methods do you think are required today to grow?”
So to get started, I wanted to take a look at some of the common themes some people responded with.
- Technology is changing rapidly
- Don’t become arrogant or ignorant
- Don’t fool yourself into thinking you finished learning
- Work on things you are uncomfortable with
- Understand the business needs and constraints
- Share what you learn
Tech is changing fast!
This is a no brainer, but keeping up with the major things in your interest area is kind of important. So much has changed in the enterprise space in just the last few years, you have to put in the time and effort to keep up.
Watch your Attitude
There is an old idea that as an IT person moves forward in their career, they start to prefer to do things only in the way they’ve learned. At the same time, they ignore the opinions of others who might have a better idea. In some cases this has been true and as those people move to management, it makes it harder to get those people to consider new ideas or approaches for the business (I want to call their approach Analog, and more modern approaches digital, like SDDC). This is something you have to watch out for within yourself. Be open to ideas, regardless the person who might be providing it. If the idea isn’t good, mentor them on why it isn’t. Just be open to learning new ideas.
Who said you were done learning?!?!
See: [Last two sections] + [make connections]
No but seriously, tech is changing and you can’t be so stubborn that you’d miss an opportunity to learn whats changing. But its not just that, if you’re working in data center infrastructure and don’t attempt to understand virtualization, its going to be hard to progress. Honestly, who still PREFERS bare-metal?
Get comfortable being uncomfortable
To learn one technology is to learn its anciliary tech. For compute, thats storage and networking. For BYOD, you might want to know Operating Systems, Account Management/Authentication or SaaS Services (among other things). But wait, there’s MORE! On the topic of professional growth, things that make an individual in IT standout are those who take the time to understand the business.
The business is your other significant other, get to know them
The more that IT understands the business, its needs and issues, the better you can enable the business (the reason IT is even around). It sounds cheesy, but it’s incredibly important that we make processes and infrastructure easier to use, manage and consume. Don’t forget your INTERNAL customers include the admins that have to manage and use the system on a daily basis, don’t make their lives hell to make the business more agile. Thats creating business issues (human suffering) while trying to resolve other ones.
Also, it doesn’t hurt to learn a little bit about procurement, finance and project budgeting.
So what do we get from all of this? There are so many things you can do to help yourself get your foot in the door. Its not just about knowing people, because even that will have its moments butting up against the Peter Principle. No, there are traits and experiences that help you get started, building them up and using them is a choice.
If you go about your work expecting things to just happen for you, your career will stagnate fairly quickly. If you punch the clock at 5 and leave without showing the effort, you can’t expect someone to want to throw you a project when they need help (notice I’m not saying leaving at 5 is the bad thing).
Going beyond that, you can’t forget about the business and how to better enable it. As you progress, it will become a bigger and bigger part of your conversations. The difference between an admin and a VP of IT is that the admin worries about the small technicalities, while the VP worries about meeting a metric that says the business is X percent/amount better.
Overall, be passionate, be determined and put in the time. Learn the above skills both on and off the clock and build a career you can be proud of. I mean, what do you have to lose?! Except for a lifetime of amazing opportunities.